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Column: Creative thinking helps youth livestock exhibitors

ESCANABA — Upon the cancelation of the U.P. State Fair in June, event organizers worked aggressively with State Fair livestock departments to plan a livestock exhibition for their youth exhibitors. Developing a plan that promoted public safety, while maintaining the lofty experience expectations from previous U.P. State Fair events proved difficult. Meeting these expectations required consultation with outside vendors, cooperation from fair participants and creative planning from fair authorities. Upon completion, the resulting event would provide an incredible opportunity for a community to support the fair and the youth livestock exhibitors who had invested immeasurable amounts of time and money into their animal projects.

At the heart of the 2020 event was the inaugural Lori Branstrom Memorial Livestock Expo, also known as the Junior Market Livestock Sale. The Expo was renamed this year to honor longtime friend and exhibitors manager, Lori Branstrom. Lori passed away in February of 2020 after receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis shortly following the 2019 U.P. State Fair. Lori’s dedication to the fair and her previous influence in continuing the livestock programs after the State of Michigan ceased their funding made it appropriate to honor her legacy.

In light of crowd restrictions, fair organizers moved the annual livestock auction from the beef arena to the fairground grandstands. The Junior Market Livestock Committee then sought to offer an online bidding component to their auction that could provide a safe, socially distanced bidding experience for all supporters. To achieve this Virtual/Live Auction combination, expo organizers reached out to familiar supporters, Leist Auctioneers and Northern Michigan Livestock. Both companies are owned by the Leist Family of Boyne City, MI. The Leist’s are familiar with livestock auctions and offered their website, MichiganAuction.com, to provide an online solution to social distancing.

On Saturday, August 22 eager supporters scattered throughout the grandstands to bid during the live auction of youth livestock projects. Over 165 animal projects were included in the auction. Online participants followed the auction from home on their computers or smartphones, while those in the stands viewed the animals on a large video screen. Auctioneers Frank, Ed and Wade Leist from Leist Auctioneers along with Scott Sykora from Sykora Auctions called bids out to over 450 virtual and in-person bidders. Youth exhibitors attended as well and stood front and center under the video screen while their projects were rapidly sold.

Incredible support was received from the bidders who ensured profitable returns for the young participants. Beef projects averaged just under $4.00 per pound which resulted in over $5,100 per animal. Lamb and Goat projects averaged $7 per pound and $14 per pound respectively, while hog projects averaged a staggering $6.65 per pound, yielding a per animal average of over $1,850.

“I have never seen support like this at any fair we have ever worked,” said auctioneer, Wade Leist before adding, “a lot of people were worried about the potential for support due to the impact of COVID. But, clearly this community places a priority on the fair, the youth and the livestock and agricultural industries. It was great to see, and an honor to be a part of.”

All told, the inaugural Lori Branstrom Memorial Livestock Expo Sale brought in over $440,000 for the youth participants. The sale also fetched an additional $11,000 to be added to the Lori Branstrom Scholarship program which will award scholarships to future youth livestock participants. This year three scholarships of $500 each were awarded to applying exhibitors. The additional $11,000 from this event was raised when Lori’s granddaughter, Brooklyn, donated the proceeds of her fair pig to the scholarship. The pig, named Scarlet, weighed 269 pounds and was purchased by Little Bay Concrete Products for $8.00 per pound. Thirty-one additional donors then added $1.00 per pound to the price to fund the scholarship and ensure Lori’s lasting legacy. Scholarship recipients may use the money to invest in future livestock projects of their choosing.

The U.P. State Fair Authority, Management Team and the Jr. Market Livestock Committee thank Leist Auctioneers and their staff, the supportive media, dedicated volunteers and employees, generous buyers and sponsors, show judges, and the department superintendents and advisory committee for making the Lori Branstrom Memorial Livestock Expo……memorable!

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Vickie Micheau is the executive director of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce

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